The Cauponor Institute is a research group which educates farmers to have the knowledge and skills to define and implement fair trade for themselves. There is a great need for an organization that fosters community development as defined by the farming communities and educates farmers about the rights that fair trade has claimed to give them. Currently, fair trade regulations apply western solutions to communities that are not familiar with western social principles. For example, in Darjeeling, it is nearly impossible for tea pluckers to meet democratically with plantation owners and mangers. This is not due to ill will by mangers but rather, it is due to a long colonial history that has been manifested in five generations of tea pluckers who have lived on the same plantation and who have been told about the struggles of their ancestors under the British.
The Cauponor Institute is currently building a fair trade institute in Darjeeling. This institute will be run by a team of Darjeeling locals who have experience in plantation management, fair trade, and grass-roots NGO work. Courses will be conducted to teach plantation workers about plantation management, exporting and importing, unionization, fair trade, tea tasting etc. Such courses will empower pluckers in their work and enable them to take a stake in the plantation rather than viewing themselves as victims of the plantation. Creative incentives to match the needs of tea pluckers will be offered to insure high attendance.
The institution will fulfill the request from plantation managers as well as tea pluckers asking for mediation in the current power dynamic. Mediation by locals not tied to tea estate management is necessary because tea pluckers are often too hesitant to approach managers and mangers cannot approach pluckers because they are mistrusted symbols of colonialism. Once tea pluckers have a full understanding of the system that their lives are based on, they will be prepared to effect change within their own communities as they see fit as well as partner with organization abroad on their own terms rather than terms that have been dictated to them.
The research group and institute will also be launching a website next month. The website will connect consumers in the west directly with producers. The mission of the website is to create a transparent forum to discuss fair trade. Eventually, it will act as a Wikipedia like database where consumers can look up any product to learn the social facts from a multitude of sources.
• More than 40% of the world’s population lives in low-income countries- yet these countries account for only 3% of world trade.
• For every dollar given to poor countries in aid, they lose two dollars to rich countries because of unfair trade barriers against their exports.
However, modifications of our trade structure hold the potential to create significant change.
• If Africa, East Asia, South Asia and Latin America each increased its share of world exports by just one percent, the results could lift 128 million people out of poverty.
• In Africa alone, this one percent increase in the share of world trade would generate $70billion – five times what the continent gets in aid.
At the same time that there is great need for fair trade, there is a rising interest in developed countries to channel resources to foster sustainable development. According to the Conscious Consumer study by BBMG, the ethical branding and marketing agency, 87% of Americans say that the words “conscious consumer” describe them well and they are more likely to buy from companies that support fair trade practices if products are of equal quality and price. According to the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations (FLO), consumers worldwide spent 1.6 billion euros on fair trade certified products in 2006. This is a 41% increase from 2005.
While there is interest on one side and need on the other, there is no efficient connection point where an honest symbiotic relationship can form and develop at the pace of the affected parties. The fair trade movement emerged in the US in the 1950s as a charity for farmers in debt, and the impetus for the movement came from many church groups and religious organizations. Currently, the movement is at another turning point at which we need to examine the structures that Fair Trade has imposed on the developing world through the lens of the very people whom it purports to serve.
Fair Trade as a general idea is noble; however it overlooks many of the nuances necessary for implementation. For example, in the tea fields in Darjeeling I have seen that tea farmers on fair trade farms are not participating in democratic decision-making regarding the use of profits—rather they are simply living hand to mouth, their daily concerns focused on living and nothing more. In Tanzania, many farmers in fair trade certified fields either do not correctly understand the tenets of fair trade as laid out by their certifying body or do not know what fair trade is at all because the regulations are not related to their reality.